Earlier this month, the province released Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan, which outlines a roadmap for working collaboratively with community partners to create essential social infrastructure in under-served communities. One of United Way’s own Community Hubs was cited in the report as a successful model of building strong communities. Imagine a City spoke with Laura Harper, Senior Manager, Programs and Services, Agincourt Community Services Association, and Hub Manager at United Way’s Dorset Park Community Hub to learn more about these important community resources.
What is a Community Hub?
Working together with donors and community partners, United Way has opened seven Community Hubs throughout our region with an eighth currently in development. These Hubs serve more than one purpose. Although they act as a one-stop shop where people can access vital programs and services all under one roof, they are also places where residents come to build community. In 2005, Toronto identified 13 priority neighbourhoods that are home to some of our most vulnerable residents—many of whom are isolated from crucial social services, supports and infrastructure. Community Hubs bridge these gaps. Although neighbourhoods throughout our communities differ greatly, that’s the common thread between them. Whether a neighbourhood is made up of a high concentration of newcomers, residents living on a low income, single mothers or youth who are not graduating, Community Hubs bring together resources to provide a place that supports the diverse growing needs of a community.
What services do they offer?
Community Hubs offer a wide breadth of services based on a community’s needs—that’s why the Hub model is so effective. We’re able to work with community leaders and residents to discuss what their vision is for the space. For example, at the Dorset Park Community Hub, we were able to match community partners to the needs of the community to offer food bank access, newcomer settlement supports, early childhood programs and employment resources. We also offer recreational space including a computer lab and community kitchen.
Why are Community Hubs so important?
Community Hubs are an important part of building stronger neighbourhoods because they involve people who live in the community—and know the issues first-hand—in every stage of the development and ongoing operation. Residents are ingrained in the decision-making process because they want to make their community better. When Dorset Park residents saw that a Community Hub was opening, they felt truly invested. They felt that a funder like United Way believed in them so they took ownership of the space. The Hub represents opportunity for the community—opportunity to have their needs met, cultivate new relationships, discover a sense of empowerment and to become active participants in creating a stronger neighbourhood.
What role do local residents play in supporting the activities and ongoing operation of the Hubs?
Community Hubs could not thrive without the support of residents. Before the Hubs opened, residents wanted to get engaged in their community, but lacked the infrastructure, mentorship and organization to get community-led initiatives off the ground. They wanted a space where they could come together and start projects of their own.
An example I always highlight is the Women`s English Circle that started when a group of women identified that many newcomers in the community wanted to learn English. Though the program was initially successful, when it moved over to the Dorset Park Community Hub, membership grew exponentially. Now, 80 women actively participate in the program, most of whom were formerly isolated. This resident-led program not only gives women the opportunity to learn English, but more importantly, it’s connecting them with other women in the community. Now, the participants are actively engaging in other resources, have become volunteers and are even running initiatives of their own.
Want to learn more about the vital role Community Hubs play in neighbourhoods across our region? Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn on August 27, 28 and 29 to learn how Community Hubs are hosting free eye exams and bringing glasses to people in under-served communities. The mobile eye clinic is thanks to a unique collaboration between United Way, VSP Vision Care, Buck Consultants and Xerox.